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Keys to Game 7: Paint and Possessions

Raptors-Heat Series Hub

TORONTO — The 2-3 side of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket has all the Game 7s. After needing seven games to dispatch the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are, appropriately, going to Game 7 to determine who gets to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

The home team has won 99 (80.5 percent) of the 123 Game 7s in NBA history, including 10 of the last 11. Of course, the one loss in that stretch belongs to the Raptors, who lost at home in Game 7 of the first round two years ago.

Home-court advantage should play a role on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Home teams are 43-22 with a NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of plus-7.4 in these playoffs. But as loud as the crowd will be inside and outside the Air Canada Centre, the game (and the series) will be determined between the lines.

Here are a few things to look out for…

Heat in the paint

The Heat have been playing small quite a bit since they lost Hassan Whiteside to a sprained knee in Game 3. In Game 6 on Friday, they went all in, starting 6-7 Justise Winslow at center and leaving both Udonis Haslem and Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench for all 48 minutes.

That doesn’t mean that they’ve turned into the Golden State Warriors from the perimeter. The Heat have three guys who have been able to shoot decently from the outside in this series. Two of those three guys – Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade – have taken most of their jumpers from inside the 3-point line, and the other – Josh Richardson – has attempted fewer threes (15) than Wade (16).

Sixty-four percent of the Heat’s points, the highest rate in the conference semifinals, have come in the paint or at the free throw line. They need to attack to score. And the Raptors, more than anything, need to keep Miami out of the paint and protect the rim. That’s why Toronto has allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions with either Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo on the floor and 122 in 62 minutes with both off the floor.

Since Valanciunas was lost to an ankle injury in Game 3, Biyombo’s presence has been important. But it’s not his job alone to protect the basket, and the Raptors’ perimeter players need to do a much better job of staying in front of their Miami counterparts than they did in Game 6 on Friday.

Dragic goes away

At times, it has felt like these teams have been playing for the Re-Screen Championship, with guards on both ends of the floor dribbling past a ball screen, getting nothing out of it, and then getting another screen from the same teammate in the opposite direction.

On Friday, both Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade had success when they “rejected” a ball screen and drove away from the screener.

Here’s Dragic setting up Cory Joseph, who’s focused on Winslow’s screen…

20160514_reject_1

Dragic catches Joseph leaning, goes right, and eventually scores in the paint.

20160514_reject_2

Dragic also had some success in attacking close outs when he received a pass on the weak side of the floor. The Raptors’ guards have been aiming to contest catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, but were unable to balance that with containing the drive on Friday.

According to SportVU, the Heat have a brutal effective field goal percentage of 38.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the series have scored 1.16 points per possession on drives over the last five games.

For the Raptors, the choice should be easy on close-outs: Let ’em shoot and don’t let ’em get by you.

The other three factors

Game 6 was, by far, the Heat’s best offensive game of the series. But over the six games, the bigger difference between Toronto’s three wins and Miami’s three was has been on the Raptors’ end of the floor. The Raptors scored 103 points per 100 possessions over Games 2, 3 and 5, but just 90 over Games 1, 4 and 6.

Toronto shot decently in Game 3, but not in their other two wins. And the difference in their offense in wins vs. losses has been more about the other three factors of efficiency: turnovers, free throws and rebounding.

In their three wins, the Raptors have committed just 11.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. In their three losses, they’ve committed 14.1.

In their three wins, the Raptors have attempted 33 free throws for every 100 shots from the field. In their three losses, they’ve attempted just 23 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

And in their three wins, the Raptors have grabbed 24 percent of available offensive rebounds and averaged 13.7 second chance points. In their three losses, they’ve grabbed 15 percent of available offensive boards and averaged just 8.3 second chance points.

In Game 5, though the Heat played small for all 48 minutes, Toronto grabbed just eight of 42 available offensive rebounds.

Neither team has shot well in this series, but extra possessions (via offensive rebounds) and lost possessions (via turnovers) have been critical. Every one counts.

Morning shootaround — May 14




NEWS OF THE MORNING
What it takes for Heat | Vogel to Orlando? | Spurs face questions | Mavs eye Howard | Grizzlies talk to Ewing
No. 1: Heat come through when heat was on — Unconventional? Necessary? Desperate? Use your own adjectives. But trailing 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Heat had no more room to back up and, as our own Lang Whitaker points out, they did what they needed to do to survive and force Game 7 on Sunday:

While starting a rookie at center was largely prompted from attrition, it was a couple of veterans who did the heavy lifting for the Heat, helping them even the series with a 103-91 win. When the Heat were looking at a possible end of their season in Game 7 of their first round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Goran Dragic took control, scoring 25 points. Facing elimination again Friday, Dragic shredded Toronto for a career playoff-high 30 points, and chipped in seven rebounds.

“I didn’t want to go home to Europe,” Dragic joked. “I wanted to stay here.”

Dragic got significant help from Dwyane Wade, who finished with 22 points, giving him 110 points in his last four games. While Justise Winslow looked Lilliputian lined up against Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, he finished with 12 points and three rebounds, and more than held his own in the paint.

Miami’s rotation shuffles were mostly due to injuries — Miami center Hassan Whiteside went out during Game 3 with a knee sprain, which made the series “go sideways,” according to Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. But the Heat’s smaller group was also a way to give Toronto a fresh look after five games against the same team.

“It’s just unconventional,” said Wade of the smaller lineup. “And sometimes unconventional works… at this time of the series you need something a little different.”

***

No. 2: Magic talk with Vogel — Suddenly confronted with an unexpected coaching vacancy when Scott Skiles quit after one season, the Magic are planning to reach out to former Pacers boss Frank Vogel about taking over the job. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel caught up to Magic G.M. Rob Hennigan, who might as well have been talking about Vogel when describing the traits he’s seeking in a new coach:

On Thursday and again on Friday, Hennigan said the Magic would seek to hire someone who places a high value on the defensive end of the court.

“Sort of the fulcrum of what we’re looking for,” Hennigan said Friday, “is someone who puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor, someone who puts an emphasis on player development and also someone who puts an emphasis on building lasting connections with the players on our roster.”

***

No. 3: Spurs decisions beyond Duncan — The first question to be asked in the seconds after the Spurs were eliminated by the Thunder was whether Tim Duncan had just walked off an NBA court for the final time after a 19-year career. But as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News points out, the organization that was shockingly upset after a franchise best 67-15 season has plenty of questions that go well beyond their Hall of Fame big man:

Barring trades, the Spurs will bring back at least seven players from a 67-win team: LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Kyle Anderson.

Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the 35-year-old David West hold player options that, if exercised, would add their names to the list. Those decisions don’t have to be made until July.

The Spurs own a team option on rookie guard Jonathon Simmons, which they are likely to exercise.

Depending on how those answers shake out, the Spurs could create salary-cap space to pursue another maximum-dollar free agent. They have already been linked to OKC star Kevin Durant and Memphis point guard Mike Conley.

West, who famously gave back $12.6 million in Indiana last summer to accept a veteran minimum deal with the Spurs, says he has no regrets about that decision.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said West, who remained non-committal about his future. “I needed this for where I am in my career and where I am as a person. It kept me sane. It kept me in basketball.”

Once the free-agency horn sounds July 1, Boban Marjanovic will become the most interesting internal decision for the Spurs’ front office.

He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Spurs retain the right to match any offer he receives, and a provision in the collective bargaining agreement limits the amount he can earn next season to $5.6 million.

Competing teams could choose to structure an offer sheet for Marjanovic with a salary spike in the third year. The Spurs would then have to decide whether to swallow that so-called “poison pill” and match.

***

No. 4: Howard could top Mavericks wish list — The Mavericks have not exactly had a great deal of luck in the past landing big name free agents. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan are just a few names that have slipped away. But now the Mavs might be turning their attention back toward Howard this summer, according to Dwain Price of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

At the top of the Mavericks’ wish list this year is Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, who plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. Howard, it would seem, has absolutely everything the Mavericks need from a center.

Plus, Howard constantly draws a double team, which would allow Dirk Nowitzki to hang out on the perimeter and basically enjoy target practice during the twilight of his career.

Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Chicago’s Pau Gasol and Atlanta’s Al Horford are the other centers the Mavericks will probably pursue if they can’t land Howard, who is good friends with Mavs forward Chandler Parsons.

The negatives with Howard are many: He wants a long-term contract with an annual salary of around $30 million, he’s a career 56.8 percent shooter from the free-throw line, and, according to his critics, he doesn’t take the game seriously.

***

No. 5: Ewing interviewed by Grizzlies — With general manager Chris Wallace having already been spotted dining out with ex-coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies have also spoken with Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing about their bench opening, says CBS Sports and Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

Ewing, a 53-year-old Hall of Famer, reportedly interviewed for the Memphis job Thursday. He previously talked to the Sacramento Kings about their head coaching job that Dave Joerger filled two days after he was fired by the Grizzlies.

Ewing is a retired player who paid his dues as an assistant yet hasn’t been seriously considered for a head position.

“All I can do is continue to coach, continue to work, be good at my craft, and hopefully, one day, that will help me when and if I get that opportunity,” Ewing once told USA Today after being elevated to associate head coach of the then-Charlotte Bobcats under Steve Clifford.

Ewing started coaching as an assistant for the Washington Wizards in 2002. He spent three years on the Houston Rockets bench. The New York Knicks legend also worked under Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic.

“I know he is an excellent coach, and he has more than paid his dues,” Clifford told USA Today. “If you’re around him every day, you see it. I lean on him for a lot of things, the tough times … He helps me in every imaginable way.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Dwyane Wade passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th spot on playoff scoring list … Hassan Whiteside says he will not play in Game 7 vs. Toronto … Jerry Sloan talks openly about his battle with Parkinson’s Disease … Kevin Durant says beating the Spurs was “not our championship.”… Rockets fans want Kenny Smith as the next coach in Houston … The Spurs will pursue free agent point guard Mike Conley … The Celtics and Danny Ainge ready for this most important draft … LeBron James would have voted for Terry Stotts as Coach of the Year.

Morning shootaround — May 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors value Livingston’s contributions | Heat bemoan mistakes in wake of Game 2 loss | Lue fires back at Barkley | Why Vogel is out in Indiana | Report: Rockets to interview Hornacek

No. 1: Warriors appreciating Livingston even more now — The Golden State Warriors were hoping to have Stephen Curry back for Game 3 of their semifinal series with the Portland Trail Blazers. After practice yesterday, though, Warriors coach Steve Kerr says Curry ‘probably’ won’t play in Game 3. That means more heavy lifting at point guard for Curry’s backup, Shaun Livingston. It’s not surprising the Warriors have come to value Livingston’s contributions to the team even more during Curry’s absence, writes Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Kerr and team trainers want Curry to participate in practice, including at least a three-on-three scrimmage, before he returns to game action. This scrimmage might happen in the next few days, if all goes well, so it’s possible Curry could play in Game 4 on Monday night.

Still, his all-but-certain absence Saturday means it’s time, again, for Warriors fans to appreciate Shaun Livingston. He’s in line to make his sixth start of the playoffs when his team, already leading 2-0, meets Portland in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

“We’d be dead without him,” Kerr said.

Livingston brings a polar-opposite style — 4 inches taller than Curry and without similar lateral quickness or snazzy ballhandling skills. Curry does his best work away from the basket; Livingston prospers on the low post.

“Honestly, if you lose the MVP, you better have somebody capable to come in,” Kerr said. “Shaun is obviously more than just capable. He’s a great player in his own right.”

The Warriors looked lost at times without Curry on Tuesday night. Their offense grew stagnant as they fell behind 87-76 after three quarters.

But they rallied in the fourth quarter for a stirring victory, and Livingston was right in the mix. He re-entered the game with 6:07 remaining and the score tied 91-91. He had six points and two assists down the stretch as the Warriors pulled away.

He knows he won’t score 30 points a game, like Curry, but Livingston is trying to look toward the basket more often in his temporary role as a starter.

“We obviously don’t have the MVP out there, so my role is to be just a little bit more aggressive with my offensive game,” he said. “I’m trying to get guys involved but also keep attacking.…

“It’s a different game when Steph’s not out there. We don’t have the same spacing or the same shooting, or the same playmaking to a degree. So we have to rely on each other more, move the ball, just trust each other.”

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — April 2




VIDEO: Highlights from Friday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors’ home streak snapped | Lakers try to heal No. 2 | Morris lost trust | Barea delivers for Mavs | Rookie fires back at Durant

No. 1: Celtics take down Warriors — After setting an NBA record with 54 consecutive home wins, going undefeated at Oracle for more than 14 months, dominating many visitors and wriggling off the hook in handfuls of other testy situations, what did the Warriors do when they were finally beaten on their home court by the Celtics Friday night? Applaud, of course. That was the reaction of Golden State coach Steve Kerr as a tribute to both the Celtics’ effort and to the historic feat that had been accomplished by his own team in establishing such a run of dominance. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle was there to document the end of the streak:

“I congratulated them,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after one of the quickest postgame locker room meetings of the season. “Are you kidding me? We won 54 home games in a row. What our guys have accomplished is incredible. I don’t know if people understand the intensity and the work that it takes to put together a streak like that.

“To compete night in and night out, when you’re worn out, it takes a lot out of you — especially when every game is the opponent’s biggest game. People are coming after us. I told the guys how proud I am of putting together an amazing streak.”

The Warriors (68-8) were the first team among the four major professional sports leagues to reel off a home streak of 50 games, and they were five games from becoming the first NBA team to finish an undefeated home season.

They hadn’t lost at home in the regular season since Jan. 27, 2015, when Chicago knocked them off in overtime. The Warriors now need to win five of their final six games to break the NBA’s single-season victories record, which was established by the Bulls in 1995-96.

Despite being down nine points with fewer than 5½ minutes to play, it looked briefly as though the Warriors might at least send Friday’s game into overtime. Trailing 109-106, Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes missed game-tying three-pointers in the closing seconds.

“We’ve gotten away with some games that we probably shouldn’t have won on shots like that,” Curry said. “Tonight, it wasn’t our time.”

***

No. 2: Russell and Young trying to pick up the pieces — While a forgettable season inexorably winds down to the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, the Lakers are trying to move past the unforgettable controversy involving rookie D’Angelo Russell and teammate Nick Young. Russell, who secretly videotaped a private conversation with his teammate, said he’s giving Young his space to let the festering wounds heal, but added that he would have been willing to defend himself if it had come to that. Bill Oram of the Orange County Register has the details:

Russell has been contrite and poised when addressing the awkward situation. But if the issue had escalated to more than a verbal altercation?
“I’d get physical back,” he said.

Russell said he and Young have tried to solve their problems “the right way,” and that the issues in the locker room never got to the point of violence, “but if it does you’ve got to deal with the consequences.”

Russell and Young both practiced Friday, (coach Byron) Scott said. It remains unclear how willing to forgive Young is, with various gossip outlets reporting that his engagement to Australian rap star Iggy Azalea is on the brink of collapse.

“It’s kind of at this point where you need your space,” Russell said, “and you can’t force peace if it’s not there. You’ve got to let the time heal it.”

Scott said he did not know what would happen to Russell’s relationship with Young, who is under contract for two more seasons. Before the video surfaced last week, the two were exceptionally close, with Russell among those attending a birthday party for Young’s son.

“Will they ever be buddy-buddy again?” Scott said. “I don’t know. But they do have to coexist as long as they’re both here, and I think they can.”

***

No. 3: Morris says he could no longer trust Suns — Before going out and scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help the struggling Wizards keep their Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive, Markieff Morris took the occasion of his return to the desert to say he wanted out of Phoenix because he just didn’t trust the Suns any longer. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic caught up to Morris:

“I always felt free to play,” Morris said before his first game against the Suns, his NBA home for 4 ½ seasons. “It was just tough to do certain things with no trust and play for people that you really don’t trust.”
Morris would not specify whom he mistrusted.

“I ain’t getting into that but I’m happy where I am now,” Morris said. “I look back on the happy years I had here. It was definitely a great time.”

Morris, 26, was considered a key building block for the Suns and he backed up that assertion by improving his play annually. He became a candidate for the NBA Sixth Man Award and NBA Most Improved Player and was empowered as a future leader of the franchise.

When an assertion was made that the Suns traded their best player in February 2015, Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough contented that the Suns’ best players – Morris and Eric Bledsoe – were still on the roster.
“I’ve seen this play out before,” Morris said. “There have been a couple players I’ve been here with that have been the best players on the team that came back next year in a new uniform so it’s nothing new.”

During Morris’ tenure, Goran Dragic asked to be traded because he was disgruntled, Isaiah Thomas was traded because he was not content with his role and Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Channing Frye said they wanted to stay in Phoenix before negotiations soured them on returning.

“I’ve seen so many do it,” Morris said. “I just didn’t think it would be me like that but it is what it is.”

Morris was traded to Washington in February for the Wizards’ first-round draft pick, which conveys to Phoenix if it is No. 10 or lower. The draft slot is working out ideally for the Suns with Washington currently slotted at No. 12 unless long-shot draft lottery odds changed that.

***

No. 4: Barea leads another big Mavs win — Point guard J.J. Barea spent Thursday back at home in the Dallas area for the birth of his daughter, but arrived at The Palace of Auburn Hills in time to deliver another clutch performance that keeps the Mavericks in the thick of the tight Western Conference playoff race. Barea has been on a scoring tear of late and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News was on hand to see the latest outburst:

What the Mavericks did have going for them was J. J. Barea, who continued one of his hottest streaks of his career with 29 points. He’s averaged 24 points in the three-game winning streak and this game came after he was in Plano Thursday for the birth of his daughter, Paulina Barea Ortiz.

“One of the best (weeks) ever,” Barea said. “My daughter’s healthy and everybody’s happy and we’re winning some games. I’m playing pretty good. Other than 2011 championship week, this is pretty good.”

Barea’s play was crucial. He had a huge second quarter when the Mavericks scored 15 consecutive points to go up 40-25.

Detroit, playing their ninth consecutive home game, came back to tie the game at 58 in the third quarter.

Barea refused to go down, however. His 3-pointer and midrange jumper rebuilt the Mavericks’ advantage to 86-79. The Pistons hung around, but Wesley Matthews’ three-point play with 2:38 to go made it 93-85 and the Mavericks walked out of the Palace at Auburn Hills winners for the fifth season in a row.

It was against some tough odds with only Barea and Devin Harris available at point guard.

“Our guys are dropping like flies,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Hopefully Ray will be OK. J.J. flew in today and was big for us. I thought defensively we played a solid game. It was a big win for us with some key guys out.”

On Barea, coach Rick Carlisle added: “He was tremendous. We’re all very happy for him. He’s got to be really happy and I think there was probably a little inspiration seeing his daughter come into the world. It’s a great day.”

This also was the third consecutive game that the Mavericks have held an opponent under 90 points, easily a first for this season. Zaza Pachulia and Salah Mejri also had a nice defensive night against Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ dominant big man who had 17 rebounds, but only 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

“A combination of (a slower) offensive tempo and defensive intensity,” Carlisle said about what’s brought about the defensive uptick. “The guys are buying into a style of play that puts us in a better position to defend. Going forward, sometimes, we got to go a little faster, sometimes we got to tempo it down. We’re trying to do whatever it takes.

***

No. 5:Pistons rookie “not scared” of K.D. — The war of words continues between the Pistons and Thunder. First the OKC players didn’t like the way their former teammate Reggie Jackson celebrated a bit too much after a win on their home floor. First Russell Westbrook and then Kevin Durant expressed their displeasure. Now it is Detroit rookie Stanley Johnson who is fanning the flames in the verbal skirmish as he fires back at Durant, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

At first, Stanley Johnson could see the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point.

Maybe teammate Reggie Jackson enjoyed himself a bit too much toward the end of the Detroit Pistons’ 88-82 victory Tuesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

But things changed when he read the comments from Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, who said “I wanted to play against Detroit, for sure, but you know, it’s Detroit. Who cares about Detroit?” to explain his reasoning for skipping the game.

Johnson said such comments were “uncalled for” and said Durant “disrespected” the franchise.

“If he wanted to have an impact on the game, he should have just played,” Johnson said after this morning’s shootaround.

He continued.

“No one is scared of playing against him on this side of town,” Johnson said. “Next year we have two games scheduled, and I know, for me, it’s circled on my schedule from now on.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James moved ahead of Oscar Robertson for 11th place on the all-time scoring list … Isaiah Thomas is wasting no time making his mark on the Celtics … Keith Smart hopes to return to Heat soon following battle with cancer … Festus Ezeli gets his April Fools Day revenge on Andre Iguodala … Obscene gesture costs Lakers’ Julius Randle $15K … Steve Kerr’s attempt at humor falls flat in Warriors locker room … NBA veteran Terry Porter takes over as new head coach at University of Portland.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Johnson heading to Miami | They the North | Rivers wants replay challenge system | Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line

No. 1: Johnson heading to Miami The Miami Heat are in the mix to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams, but for the most part sat out the trade deadline, not making any major moves. Instead, it appears they managed to pick up a seven-time All-Star yesterday without having to move any assets: After accepting a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Johnson will be signing with the Miami Heat, according to multiple reports. As Ethan Skolnick writes in the Miami Herald, Johnson’s relationships with Miami’s players probably had a lot to do with his decision

Dwyane Wade made it clear. If his contemporary and friend Joe Johnson accepted a buyout from the Brooklyn Nets, Wade would be “blowing up his phone” to recruit him to Miami.

Johnson, after initial resistance, did take that buyout.

It appears that Wade got his man.

According to several league sources, Johnson, a seven-time All-Star, has chosen to join the Heat after he is expected to clears waivers Saturday night. Johnson was pursued by nearly all of the NBA’s top contenders, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, with James even saying “he knows we want him” while speaking to reporters at Friday’s Cavaliers shootaround in Toronto.

But, according to sources, Cleveland, with its crowded backcourt and wing rotation, wasn’t one of the finalists. Johnson narrowed his choices to Miami, Oklahoma City and Atlanta due to the possibility of greater playing time, and the chance to prove worthy of another contract this season, even after earning nearly $200 million in his career.

Also helping Miami? His relationships with many of the Heat players. That started with Wade, with whom he became close when they were U.S. teammates in the 2008 Olympics.

While Johnson isn’t quite what he was — and got off to a terrible start with the broken Nets in the 2015 portion of the 2015-16 schedule — he has played extremely well since New Year’s, averaging 13.4 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 46 percent from three-point range. Miami is last in the league, shooting 32.1 percent from three-point range, and its two most reliable three-point shooters, Chris Bosh and Tyler Johnson, might both be out for the season, Bosh with a blood clot and Johnson with a surgically-repaired shoulder.

Joe Johnson has had an odd career arc, going from underrated to overpaid to somewhat underrated again. He was the player the Heat most feared in the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinals, because of his ability to post up, catch-and-shoot, play isolation and made critical plays down the stretch.

The question wasn’t whether the Heat would be interested. It was whether Miami could make it work, while also meeting another aim — staying under the luxury tax, to avoid being classified as a “repeater” team, and dealing with the punitive tax multipliers.

To stay under the tax, when it was roughly $218,000 from the line, Miami would have needed Johnson to wait to start a new Heat contract for at least another 10 days. But, with the Johnson commitment, the team began exploring options that would allow him to come sooner, and still stay under the tax. That could include waiving a current player, such as injured point guard Beno Udrih, but it would only help if another team claimed him. Miami has also explored adding outside shooter Marcus Thornton, whom it nearly signed this summer, signing Gerald Green instead; Thornton was recently traded from Houston to Detroit but, after that trade was negated by the league, was waived by the Rockets.

There was no official update on Bosh on Friday, and he didn’t speak to the media at the team’s annual gala Thursday night. But teammates are proceeding as if he won’t return this season. But now, if he doesn’t, Miami appears to have an opportunity to remain highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, with a lineup of either Amar’e Stoudemire or Hassan Whiteside at center, Luol Deng (coming off four straight double-doubles) at power forward, and either Johnson or Justise Winslow at small forward, with Wade and Goran Dragic in the backcourt. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, could also play some power forward in smaller lineups, or some shooting guard, occasionally pairing with Wade in the backcourt.

***

No. 2: They the North The Toronto Raptors entered this season with high expectations, fueled by last season’s 49-win team and the addition of free agent DeMarre Carroll. Yet even with Carroll missing most of the season with injuries, the Raptors have met those expectations, and entered last night’s game against the Eastern Conference champ Cleveland Cavaliers looking to make a statement. They didn’t disappoint, as Kyle Lowry was up to the challenge, scoring a career-high 43 and leading the Raptors to a come-from-behind 99-97 win. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst writes, it was a much-needed win for the Raptors, who still have plenty to prove

Trying to play it cool in the wake of one of the greatest moments of his career, Kyle Lowry went straight Bill Belichick.

“We’re moving on to Detroit,” Lowry said with a straight face, in reference to the Raptors’ next game, after his Toronto Raptors upended the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback Friday night. “It’s just a win.”

The Raptors do not have a storied history or much of an inventory of unforgettable moments outside the Vince Carter early years file. As such, it was not much of a stretch to say Lowry’s 43 points, a career high, against the Cavs rank as one of the greatest shows in team history.

Lowry’s stepback jumper over Matthew Dellavedova with 3.8 seconds left, the winning points, was unequivocally one of the best moments of Lowry’s career. It was his first game winner since he tipped one in at the buzzer when he was at Villanova. It was a moment to celebrate under any circumstances. If Lowry did so, though, it was in private.

“I will maybe enjoy it for a few minutes,” Lowry said.

Here is why.

There isn’t a day or so that goes by in which the Raptors don’t remind themselves of the past two seasons. Their first-round playoff exits, despite home-court advantage, hang over them like a cloud, amplified by the two Atlantic Division banners hanging above their bench that can feel like a needless, pointless taunt.

As masterful as Lowry was Friday — his relentless attacking and aggression wore the Cavs’ defenders out — it only briefly covered up the sting of his wilting a year ago. He refuses to let the way his body betrayed him with back and leg injuries be driven from his mind. Lowry was almost helpless in his team’s four-game sweep by the Washington Wizards last year. Injuries or no, it is a black stain on his record that doesn’t easily come off.

That’s what inspired him to report to this season in tremendous shape, and it is what won’t allow him to accept February success as anything but that.

“I know this sounds boring, and you’re going to get tired of hearing it,” Lowry said. “But we have to just focus on the process. We’ve been here before.”

Lowry has twice taken down the Cavs this season. Back in November, he scored six points and had two assists in the final five minutes of a quality win. In this one, with DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph battling illness and DeMarre Carroll recovering from knee surgery, the Raptors appeared to be toast without Lowry. They were almost toast anyway; the Cavs held the lead for most of the first 44 minutes.

For the Cavs, it was infuriating to watch, with Lowry getting to the line 15 times and thoroughly outplaying Kyrie Irving, who had just 10 points and one assist.

“We’ve got to get somebody who can guard him,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.

***

No. 3: Rivers wants replay challenge system The Los Angeles Clippers have developed a reputation as a team unafraid to let referees know when the disagree with a call. But Clips coach Doc Rivers has an idea that might simplify the appeals process. As Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, Rivers is in favor of an NFL-style replay challenge system

While the NBA has instant replay, it currently doesn’t allow coaches to challenge a ruling on a play. Rivers said the NBA has discussed the subject of a coach’s challenge during competition committee meetings in recent years, but it has not come close to being approved. NFL coaches are allowed two challenges per game before the snap of the ball at any time before the two-minute warning of each half or overtime period.

“I would throw it out [a challenge flag] with both hands like a shot. That’s why I couldn’t shoot,” Rivers said Friday morning during the Clippers’ shootaround for the Sacramento Kings game. “It’s a tough one to me. It’s not like officials are trying to make mistakes, but they do at the end of the games.”

A controversial call during the Clippers’ 87-81 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday sparked Rivers’ call for a challenge system.

With 30.4 seconds left and the Clippers down 85-81, Los Angeles forward Jeff Green was called for an offensive foul on a made basket after driving into defender Danilo Gallinari. The NBA admitted on its “NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report” on Thursday that the referee made a mistake on the offensive foul call on Green. Green potentially could have had a made basket with a free throw. Rivers described it as a “horrible call, which the league acknowledged.”

“I’ve been pushing for a [challenge] flag for a year now,” Rivers said. “We should have a challenge flag. That is the third time this year [against the Clippers] that [the NBA] has come back and said it was a bad call. It doesn’t do anything for us.”

One of the games Rivers noted was a 100-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 21 that he said included three missed calls late in the contest. The Clippers (37-20) are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and 3 ½ games behind the third-place Thunder (41-17).

“The league has done a great job of transparency and that has been phenomenal,” Rivers told Yahoo Sports. “But the problem with it is you don’t get anything from it if you’re the [losing] team. … The one thing I keep saying and make the point of is the refs are trying to make it right, too. It’s not like we’re mad at refs. We just want to get it right.”

***

No. 4: Cuban suggests deeper 3-point line Shooting a 3-pointer used to be something of a novel concept around the NBA, a high-risk, high-reward chance at a bonus point on a field goal attempt. But these days some teams (e.g. the Warriors) throw up threes like they’re layups, and as ESPN’s Tim McMahon writes, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wonders if perhaps moving back the 3-point line would open up the floor even more …

Mark Cuban has a suggestion to reintroduce the midrange shot to the NBA game: Move back the 3-point arc.

“It’s getting too close,” the Dallas Mavericks owner said Friday night of the 3-point arc, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the crest and 22 feet in the corners, where there is no room to move it back. “Guys are shooting a foot behind it anyways. … That’s something we should look at. It’s worth looking at.

“I don’t think the number of shots would decline, but I think it would reward skill and open up the court some more. So guys would still take [3-point] shots if it’s seven inches back or whatever, but at the same time, it opens up the court for more drives, more midrange game.”

The midrange jumper has become an endangered species of sorts, while NBA players are firing 3-pointers at record rates. The single-season record for 3s is 55,137; according to ESPN Stats & Information, teams are on pace to hit 58,477 this season.

Cuban thinks moving back the 3-point arc is an idea the NBA should consider, not to discourage the deep ball, but to improve the spacing of the game.

“I think it’d open it up more so guys with different skill sets could play,” Cuban said. “It would open up play for more drives. Guys with midrange games would be rewarded and that would stay in the game. There would be more diversity of offensive action in the game.

“You’d see a little bit of decline in the 3. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that we shoot so many 3s, but it’s worth it in the D-League to see what happens [with a deeper 3-point line].”

Cuban quickly dismissed a question about whether the NBA would benefit from adding a 4-point line, perhaps 30 feet from the basket.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jerry Colangelo says it’s too soon to come to any conclusions about the 76ers … Is Gregg Popovich mellowing? … Dwight Howard has parted ways with his longtime agent Dan FeganTiago Splitter had successful hip surgery … Vince Carter’s eponymous restaurant is closing

Irrelevant no more: Steady Celtics guard Thomas makes All-Star turn


VIDEO: Relive great moments from Isaiah Thomas’ solid 2015-16

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

To say Isaiah Thomas has come a long way in his NBA journey would be an understatement. The diminutive floor general, listed at a generous 5-foot-9, was consistently overlooked in the 2011 NBA Draft and wound up being that class’ “Mr. Irrelevant” for being selected with the final pick (No. 60 overall to the Sacramento Kings).

On Thursday, it was announced Thomas was voted an Eastern Conference All-Star for the first time in his career. He’ll also be the first player ever to ascend from the last pick in the NBA Draft to All-Star status, according to Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com.

That’s an incredible point of validation for Thomas, who was selected after fellow point guards Nolan Smith, Norris Cole, Charles Jenkins and Josh Selby. Those four guys have combined for 1.6 win shares, and Cole is the only one still in the NBA.

As for Thomas? He’s collected 29.2 win shares and counting — more than Klay Thompson and the 2011 Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Kyrie Irving.

The Los Angeles Lakers bungled four shots at drafting Thomas in the second round of 2011, taking point guards Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock and forwards Chukwudiebere Maduabum (who they traded to Denver) and Ater Majok. The latter two never suited up in an NBA game, while Morris and Goudelock combined for negative win shares. In short, the Lakers’ passing on Thomas in favor of those unheralded prospects was a complete and utter failure.

Interestingly, scouting reports didn’t even paint Thomas in an aggressively negative light. NBADraft.net pegged Thomas as a “crafty scorer” who possessed “good speed” and “excellent quickness.”

The negatives, as you might expect, focused almost exclusively on being vertically challenged.

“Very small, even for a point guard,” the report reads. “Ability to get inside will be largely negated by the size of NBA players,” was another note followed closely by, “Will struggle to matchup (sic) with NBA guards defensively.”

And, as Matthew Kamalsky wrote for DraftExpress in 2009, “One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor.” He went on to praise the youngster’s “absolutely outstanding first-step” and “excellent speed in transition.”

He also proved to be an assassin in the clutch. While suiting up for the University of Washington, Thomas hit a difficult step-back fadeaway at the buzzer to beat Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament championship.

He possessed an impressive skill set and didn’t shy away from big moments, which you’d think NBA scouts would value. Somehow, Thomas tumbled down draft boards, but once he arrived in Sacramento, he made an immediate impact … and kept on improving.

Thomas averaged 11.5 points, 4.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds while sinking 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie. His second season was much like his first and in his third season, he blossomed with averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in 72 games (54 starts).

He left Sacramento as a free agent and landed with the Phoenix Suns via a sign-and-trade deal. In Arizona, his numbers took a dip as he filled a role as the sixth man behind Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. But a trade deadline-day deal in 2015 Boston gave him a fresh opportunity that he ultimately parlayed into his first All-Star game.

Through 47 games (44 starts), Thomas is averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. The Celtics (26-21) are No. 5 in the East thanks in large part to Thomas, who leads Boston with a 28.9 percent usage rate.

Individual and team accomplishments point to Thomas earning a nod. But the Washington product also stacks up quite well when compared to his peers.

Among NBA point guards, Thomas ranks tied for fifth in player efficiency rating behind Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry. All four of those guys are All-Stars as well (sorry, Damian Lillard).

From being passed over 59 times in the 2011 Draft, to being traded by twice to making his first All-Star team, Thomas has had to silence doubters all along the way. For those who believed in him, this moment must be pretty sweet.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Should the Blazers break up their backcourt?| Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix, but Suns haven’t | Are the Wolves in the right hands? | Kobe cancels out Rio, speaks on other topics

No. 1:  Should Blazers trade CJ McCollum? — Just when it appears the Blazers have a solid young backcourt for the future, along comes a thought: Are they better off trading CJ McCollum? The thinking is both McCollum and Damian Lillard are smallish guards who collectively run into defensive matchup problems, and since both are scorers, the Blazers could trade one to shore up the front court. Here’s what John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote recently:

The Blazers remain $13 million below the salary floor, and are sitting just four games in the loss column out of the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Feb. 18 NBA Trade deadline is looming and for those holding out hope that Portland may try to alter its future by obtaining a front-line player at the deadline, there’s a move that could be made.

CJ McCollum (20.9 points per game) is putting together a nice bounce-back season. At $2.5 million annually he’s currently a terrific value. But anyone who has watched McCollum play when paired with Damian Lillard knows that you can’t play them successfully together on a team that will compete at the top of the Western Conference.

That’s the goal, right?

They can score together, but they’re a defensive disaster when paired. They’re both chuckers, too. And there’s no way that Olshey is trading Lillard, his prized draft pick. Further, the Blazers don’t want to get into a position beyond the 2016-17 season where they have to pay both Lillard and McCollum.

They’re not the “Splash Brothers.” We know that. But we don’t want them to become the “Cash Brothers.”

Even as Olshey has a man-crush on McCollum, and has privately said he wouldn’t dream of trading him, the general manager should be looking and listening when it comes to offers for the guard between now and Feb. 18.

Portland also has a potential first-round lottery pick as trade bait (but theoretically would have to wait until the draft to make that deal). And even as Olshey feels stuck on a refusal to part with any of his future draft picks, the Blazers general manager should be quietly shopping McCollum, gauging his trade value. If the return resulted in a front-line player who would start for multiple seasons and better complement Lillard, you’d have to consider making it.

To be clear, I’m not saying “McCollum must go,” here. I like his game. Just not as much as Olshey does. I’m saying, McCollum’s value isn’t going to be greater than it is in the next two seasons. It’s just not sustainable. Also, I’m saying that this season shouldn’t just be viewed as a throw away in which the Blazers roll out a the lowest-paid roster in the league and pretend that’s all there is to see.

***

No. 2: Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix; Suns haven’t —  It was a strange marriage and a strange breakup. The Suns signed Isaiah Thomas to a very team-friendly free agent contract over a year ago, which angered Goran Dragic, who felt threatened by another point guard on a team that already had Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both Bledsoe and Thomas got paid while Dragic at the time was awaiting free agency. Well, Thomas was traded to the Celtics and Dragic to Miami and of the two, Thomas is clearly having the better transition. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic on Thomas and the team he left:

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is keeping the book open on the trade history now that he has become the starting point guard that he wanted to be. Thomas is being called an All-Star candidate, averaging career highs in points per game (21.6) and assists per game (6.7) although his 3-point percentage (33.5) is at a career low.

Isaiah runs the show for a 21-19, eighth-place team in Boston. When he was traded from Phoenix, the Suns were a three-point-guard show for a 29-25, eighth-place team.

“When we recruited him, we pitched the sixth-man role to him and to be one of the top scorers in the league,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “That was with (Eric) Bledsoe and (Goran) Dragic on the roster. We signed Isaiah before we ended up getting Bledsoe’s contract resolved. It’s one of those things that seemed better to him in July than it did maybe during the season.”

The Suns pursued LeBron James first in 2014 free agency. Once that door closed after a meeting with James’ agent, the Suns targeted Thomas as the best available free agent after Sacramento did not pursue re-signing him. Thomas’ four-year, $27 million contract (via a sign-and-trade for Oriakhi) was – and is – considered a strong value, especially with how rapidly the NBA salary cap will rise over the next two years.

Thomas averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists for the Suns in 25.7 minutes per game, nine fewer minutes than he played in Sacramento. Thomas said he was competing for a starting job from the start of 2014 Suns training camp and commented during the season that the Suns situation was not what he expected. After the trade, he said playing time was his only issue in Phoenix, where he made 39 percent of his 3-pointers.

***

No. 3: Are the Wolves in the right hands? — The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team built for the future; everyone knows this. But the present-day Wolves aren’t doing very well; we can all see that, too. The question then becomes: is the team being brought along properly? And is Sam Mitchell the right coach in their development? Mitchell is the interim coach this season and the Wolves haven’t made any guarantees about his future, which means the organization is taking a wait and see approach. Meanwhile, Mitchell spoke with Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, who offered up this report:

And so, despite a nine-game losing streak, Mitchell loves the team he has. And, after practice Saturday, Mitchell defended his work developing that Wolves young roster.

“Our three leading scorers are our young guys,” Mitchell said of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. That will be a blessing a year or two from now. It’s tough when they’re developing. But everything they’re going through is going to make them better.”

It’s clear Mitchell would like to still be the coach when the benefits of that development are reaped. He also knows that, as the Wolves losing streak has gotten longer — it reached nine Friday — the criticism has grown louder. But Mitchell — who went through a similar situation in Toronto — is confident he is the right man for the job of developing this young team.

“Explain to me how we’re blocking the young guys?” Mitchell said. “When Andrew Wiggins is a 20-point scorer, and there are only 20 of those in the league? Karl-Anthony Towns is doing something that no rookie has done in 20 years. Zach LaVine is in the process of learning a new position and is our third-leading scorer. And Shabazz Muhammad has made tremendous strides. Gorgui Dieng has made strides …

“Now tell me, how are we hurting them?”

Mitchell is a self-described old school coach. Again Friday he left many of his young players in the game in the fourth-quarter of a one-sided loss, hoping they’d learn from the experience. He has admitted being hard on LaVine, even allowing as his style hasn’t always been fair.

“Yes, I tell him that all the time,” Mitchell said. “I tell him, ‘It’s hard, Zach, and sometimes it’s unfair.’ But that’s the way young players learn.”

As an example Mitchell offered Muhammad. The coaches were trying to get him to look for his teammates more, make the extra pass, play better defense. When he didn’t do that, his minutes took a tumble late in December. But, once Mitchell saw Muhammad making the effort, the minutes increased.

“I didn’t give him those minutes,” Mitchell said. “He earned them.”

But, as the losses mount, so does the pressure. Mitchell admitted Saturday that his team very much needed to experience a win, and soon, just to see some return on his players’ investment.

But he’s not going to change his approach. He said his experience in Toronto — where he won 33 and 27 games in his first two seasons before jumping to 47 wins and a division title in his third — gives him the confidence he’s doing the right thing.

“Two years from now, if we don’t do what we’re doing now, we’re never going to win, or compete, for playoff spots, or for the Western Conference or an NBA championship,” he said. “So my job is this. Even though it’s painful to do the right thing. And the right thing is to teach the young players — with the help of the veterans — how to play. And if I had not been through it before, maybe I’d panic. Maybe I’d be worried.”

***

No. 4: Kobe cancels himself out for Rio — Yes, Kobe Bryant does have a realistic grip on his basketball abilities at this point. Previously, Kobe openly wished he could be considered for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, but with his struggles this season, he finally conceded that maybe taking a spot from a more deserving player wouldn’t be the best idea, even if he could pull it off. Remember, Olympics chief Jerry Colangelo didn’t promise Kobe a spot – only Paul George is virtually guaranteed one — but would consider it out of respect for what Kobe has done for international basketball. Anyway, Kobe some about this and other topics before playing in Utah. Here’s some of the Q and A:

 

Q: Lot of memories with the Jazz team. Do you have any memories with this Jazz crowd here in this arena?

Kobe: [Laughing] Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. They were really, really tough on me, man. More so than the other crowds. They were tough. Signs when I’m shooting a free throw to literally just yelling it in my ear. Taking the ball out. They pissed me off so much. It was like ’08 in the playoffs where I just kind of erupted after a play, talking back to the crowd because they just kept driving me. With that said, it’s fond memories truly because it was like that’s what sports should be. That kind of bantering and that kind of competition or whatever. I’ve always loved playing here because of that.

Q: A man that is so driven like yourself, if you can, as you think about life after basketball, have you thought about ownership, coaching, broadcasting? Have you had a chance to just let it soak in and say what about life – because you’re still a young man – but after basketball that will keep you motivated and focused?

Kobe: Yeah, those are tough questions for athletes, I think. I’ve been kind of searching for what that was going to be for years now – 15 or 16 years – kind have been searching for that next passion and I’ve been very fortunate enough to find it to the point where it keeps me up at night. Constantly working, studying, and trying to get better at it, and I’m really looking forward to moving into that next phase. Ownership is in terms of being there day-to-day or coaching and things of that sort don’t interest me. I just don’t have a passion for it. Or broadcasting for that matter, I just don’t have a passion for it.

Q: Speaking of the future, the other day you said it was Draymond’s and Steph’s time to pursue championships and gold medals. That you’ve had your turn. Have you closed the door on pursuing the Olympics this summer or is that something you’re still considering?

Kobe: I think it’s their time. I think it’s their time. It’s funny; during a game in Golden State, it was a break in a play or whatever. Leandro Barbosa, who I’ve known for a very long time, comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in Rio.’ I just turned around and go, ‘Nah.’ [Laughs] He said, ‘Come on, man, it’s Rio.’ I said, ‘Nah, I think it’s the young guy’s turn to go play and perform.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals. I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go ahead and play. I’ll watch from afar, support from afar. If they want me to come down and speak to the guys, I will. That’s about it. I think as beautiful as it would be to play for our country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game I’m going to retire, then that’s it. It’s not like I’m going to walk off the stage and then but… I’m going to come right back for a minute. [Laughs] ‘Hold on one second.’

I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game in a Laker uniform and to support the players from afar.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Suppose the moves made by Sam Hinkie eventually help rebuild the Sixers? How will he be viewed? … After a show start, Amir Johnson is starting to finally fit in with the CelticsLeBron James, whose company dropped Johnny Manziel, says the QB needs to turn things aroundCody Zeller at center? It might work. He has played better with the Hornets missing Al JeffersonJared Dudley says the Bucks were smart to trade him.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic out at least 3 games, perhaps longer | Colangelo: Sixers could be better ‘sooner rather than later’ | Vitti wants to rest Kobe 1-2 weeks | Mavs’ Matthews miffed over rest day

No. 1: Dragic out three games (and perhaps longer) — Injuries haven’t made as much of a mess of the Miami Heat roster as it did a season ago. To date, the team’s most-used lineup of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside has logged a team-high 332 minutes together. Last season, that crew played didn’t play a single minute together. However, that continuity was disrupted last night as Dragic missed Miami’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers. He was sent home from the team’s road trip due to a calf injury and things may be a little bleak in terms of his injury. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has more:

Amid a stretch when he had been playing his best ball of the season, guard Goran Dragic has been lost to the Miami Heat for at least three games and possibly longer.

Coach Erik Spoelstra announced after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at Santa Monica High School that his starting point guard was being sent back to South Florida due to a strained left calf sustained in Monday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.

Spoelstra termed the injury “a slight calf strain” and added, “it’s not a tear.”

Dragic, however, said a doctor in Los Angeles termed it “a bad strain” and Dragic he is anxious for the results of an MRI scheduled for his Thursday return to Miami.

“We don’t know yet for sure,” Dragic said. “We’ll see when I’m going to have the MRI and we’re going to know a little bit more. We don’t know. We cannot do the timetable.”

“I mean, it’s a frustrating, of course,” he said. “I want to be here with the team. It’s part of the game. Now the only thing I can do is do my part of the job, and try to get healthy as fast as possible.”

“I don’t know which move it happened,” Dragic said. “It started hurting.”

Spoelstra said the team’s training staff has narrowed the injury down to Monday’s second half.

“We looked a couple of different plays that happened last game,” Spoelstra said, “but it could have been on either one of them in the second half, one of them where he slipped on the baseline, another one where he took off. But it started to tighten up during the game.”

Dragic said treatment began immediately.

“After the game we did some ice. We did tests,” he said. “And just said as soon as we got to L.A. we were going to go and see the doctor for the ultrasound and we did.”

Dragic said it is the first time in his career he has sustained this type of injury.

“We did some treatments with ultrasound and tried to get the swelling out,” he said.

Now the question becomes whether the comfort built with Dragic will be lost, with the Heat to utilize Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih in the interim.

***

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic: Suns ‘always changing something’ | Curry annoyed by shin injury | Hoiberg, Bulls praise Butler’s play | McCollum’s star turn | Davis doesn’t mind criticism from Gentry

No. 1: Dragic questions loyalty of Suns’ front office — Goran Dragic has been in the NBA for eight seasons and spent roughly half of that time as a member of the Phoenix Suns. Although he’s currently on the Miami Heat and spearheading the attack of one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, he can look back at his most recent stint in Arizona (2012-15) and see how Phoenix has gone from potential upstart team to one of the league’s worst squads. In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Michael Lee, Dragic claims that the Suns were too willing to tinker with a core that seemed primed for success:

Dragic is too concerned with his own adjustments in helping Miami regain a spot among the Eastern Conference elite to be overly consumed with the situation in Phoenix. But he has his own theory for why a franchise that seemed so promising is suddenly foundering, based on his own experience with the Suns.

“It feels like they’re always changing something,” Dragic told Yahoo Sports. “They’re not like Miami, San Antonio, those teams that are really loyal when they find something.”

Dragic still has fond memories of his time in Phoenix – six seasons spread out over two stints – and is especially grateful for the opportunity the Suns provided after he chose to return for his second run with the team. They put the ball in his hands and allowed him to use his jet-ski speed and creative improvisations to earn third-team All-NBA honors during a surprising 48-win season in 2013-14 that now looks more like a mirage with the passing of time.

While claiming “no regrets” about his Suns tenure, Dragic remains disappointed by the ending, which he claims was the result of too much tinkering – primarily at point guard, a position the 6-foot-3 Slovenian had already proven he could handle. Dragic made it work after the team traded for point guard Eric Bledsoe in July 2013 and helped the Suns emerge as that overachieving darling. But Dragic was pushed away further from the ball – and inevitably, the team – the following season, when the Suns added another ball-dominant guard, Isaiah Thomas, in July.

“Me and Bledsoe, we built really great chemistry together, we played well and the whole team did. Everybody expected that we’re going to get some big guys that we thought we needed, but they did another move, they bring in a point guard and it was tough,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I was a little bit frustrated. It was tough, especially for me, because I was playing off the ball all the time, and I was guarding [small forwards]. That was tough for me, but they did what they did.”

The Suns don’t have the NBA’s worst record this season, but they have arguably been the worst team in the league over the past two weeks. Phoenix has lost nine straight games, including a home defeat to Philadelphia and an embarrassing road loss to the Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers. During the free fall, Markieff Morris was suspended two games for throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek; two of Hornacek’s top assistants were dismissed; and Bledsoe – the team’s best player – sustained a season-ending knee injury.

And on Friday, amid all of that turmoil, the Suns will welcome back Dragic, who noticed the fissures in the structure and got out before the unseemly collapse.

“I always believe when you find some pieces that you leave those pieces [alone]. But then you upgrade the other positions. Like San Antonio is doing. They always have the Big Three, but then it’s a good team. They always find another player at another position, so they’re always good. But that’s not my call,” Dragic told Yahoo, with an uncomfortable chuckle. “I was just there to play basketball. I tried to do my job.”

The Suns used dealing Dragic as a chance to again remake the roster as they got rid of Thomas and used a valuable trade chip – a top-three-protected pick from the Los Angeles Lakers – to acquire Brandon Knight at the deadline. They later split up the Morris twins, dealing Marcus to Detroit to clear cap space in a failed attempt to land LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. And the addition of Tyson Chandler has not yielded much. Dragic is sympathetic to the plight of his former teammates.

“I wish them all the best,” Dragic told Yahoo. “I already went through the season with only [25] wins … and it’s not pretty. Most of the guys, we’re really competitive and you want to win a lot of games. And when you get to that mix where you don’t win [in] like 10 games in a row, that’s really tough. That’s really tough. Everything is worse. In your personal life. Everything. I always say I’m hurting sometimes, have a lot of injuries. But if you win a game, I feel great. But if you lose the game, those injuries, they come up. I don’t know how to explain it, winning is such a unique thing.”

Dragic sought that “unique thing” in Miami, where Pat Riley has built a franchise that has been stable and consistently good over the past two decades, with only four non-playoff seasons during his reign with the organization.

“That’s why I didn’t hesitate to sign in free agency, because they are always on top,” Dragic told Yahoo. “They are always looking at that big picture to win a championship. I still remember that year with the Suns, when we made the [conference finals in 2010]. That was one of the best moments in my career and I want to feel that again, to be in the playoffs and to be a contender.”

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry questionable for Warriors next game, Green is a go | Butler wants nothing to do with Jordan comparisons | Heat starters finally in positive territory | Z-Bo remains a bright spot for Grizzlies | Kupchak knows Lakers can’t move on until Kobe does

No. 1:Curry questionable for Warriors’ next game, Green is a go — The Golden State Warriors are justified in their concern for reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry, who is battling a shin injury that could allowed him to play all of 14 minutes in the team’s past three games. Curry is questionable for the Warriors’ game against Charlotte tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). It’s a good thing the Warriors have Draymond Green healthy and fully engaged. He’s doing everything humanly possible to compensate for Curry’s absence, doing his “Dray-Magic” routine on the regular. As Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group suggests, Green’s heroics know no bounds:

In the wake of the latest and most monstrous triple-double of his career — 29 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists against the Denver Nuggets — Draymond Green seemed more delighted by the little challenge he won with coach Luke Walton.

It came in the first quarter of the Warriors’ early blitz. Green already had buried his first three 3-point shots as the Warriors raced out to an 11-2 lead in the first 2:18. During a Nuggets timeout, the Warriors huddled at the bench and, well, here’s Draymond to tell the rest:

“I was able to get it going and my teammates started to look for me. Then Luke drew up a play for me (during the timeout) and told me I wasn’t going to make it on the fourth one. So I had to knock that one down.”

And of course, he did. Nailed it. Nuttin’ but net, followed by a smile and a knowing smirk at the guy striding in front of the bench. Drain-mond. Trey-mond. Call him what you will, but make sure you call him unique and oh-so special, a man you can dare to do something and he’ll damn near kill himself trying.

If you want to know why Walton has been such a wonder as Steve Kerr‘s interim replacement, it’s stuff like this. He’s not so far removed from his playing days that he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game within a game, the mind game that gently goads a player to a new level of greatness.

Whatever competitive buttons he’s pushing with Green, he’s hitting all the gobble holes in the pinball machine. Draymond is lighting up everywhere and giving multiple replays. It makes you wonder what Walton might do next to keep his most versatile player at this astonishing level of play.

Hey, Luke, how about this one? Tell Green he’s played OK so far this season, but add that he’s probably reached his ceiling, and that there’s no chance he could ever become the NBA’s MVP. Yep, that might touch off a fresh bell or whistle.

One could argue fairly convincingly that through 33 games, Green has been the best all-around player in the league — and the most valuable — even over teammate and defending MVP Stephen Curry. True, he’s not off the charts in any one statistical category. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.4 assists. But as a composite, those numbers are pretty untouchable. And he’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc, up eight percentage points from his career best last year (33.7) .


VIDEO: Draymond Green racks up his league-leading 6th triple-double

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